How Many Hours a Day Do You Practice?

How many hours a day do you practice?  How much practice a day should we be doing?  Are these even the right questions we should be asking ourselves?  Writing on his blog, Bulletproof Musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama discusses how much is optimal and how much can be too much.  Even more importantly, he prioritizes and demonstrates how it’s not the duration of practice that is paramount, but the quality of the practice.

Much of Kageyama’s article will likely already be familiar to you, such as the idea of taking one day off a week from practice and really focusing your attention while practicing.  Regarding the later, Kageyama offers three reasons why you shouldn’t practice mindlessly.  First, it wastes time.  Secondly, it makes you less confident.  And finally, it’s boring.

The best part of Kageyama’s post is over what he calls “deliberate practice.”  When you practice in this manner the required amount of practice time drops, in a large part due to how mentally draining this sort of focus takes to maintain.  Kageyama writes:

You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.

Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark.  The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.

Much of the advice also mirrors practice techniques that I have picked up from teachers and a variety of other places as well.  There is also some scientific support for these techniques, so it’s well worth reading through the article and thinking more about how you practice.

Jonathan West

This is very true. As a student 30 years ago I was never taught how to practice, and particularly the concept of deliberate practice was never raised so far as I can remember. I worked out most of the ideas in the Kageyama article independently for myself, and when I was a music college I practiced far less than my fellow students. I was able to keep up with them because I avoided the mindless practice, and always had a lingering sense of guilt that I wasn’t practicing more!

As an amateur horn player today, when I have a new orchestral part to learn, I look for the exposed &/or difficult passages, and do deliberate practice on them. For an orchestral horn part, it’s quite rare for me to need more that 15-30 minutes practice in total to make it ready for rehearsal – more time needs to be spent listening to recordings so that I know where my entries are. Mahler and Bruckner symphonies of course need more than 15-30 minutes, but its surprising how few other orchestral pieces do, if you take the trouble work out which bits are exposed and really need to be right.

I’ve written a bit about this:
Practicing a difficult passage effectively
Playing a concert on one rehearsal

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